Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates hits the basic mandates of R-rated comedy but falls flat in its effort to be as insightful as it is funny.
Brothers and vodka-selling business partners Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) have an unfortunate track record of ruining family get-togethers. Despite charming personalities and good intentions, the Stangle siblings' enthusiastic antics (and womanizing) routinely leads to R-Rated hijinks, damaged property, as well as injured family members. As a result, when the pair's beloved sister, Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), finalizes preparations for her wedding, Mike and Dave's parents demand the brothers bring dates to the event - to prevent the boys from getting too tipsy and too handsy with the bridesmaids (among other potential disasters the Stangle family would like to avoid).
In order to find perfect dates, worthy of attending Jeanie's destination wedding in Hawaii, Mike and Dave post an ad to Craigslist; however, even after the ad goes viral, and would-be wedding dates flood the guys with applications, the brothers still come up short - until all that media coverage attracts the attention of best friends/irreverent party girls, Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick). Wishing to escape from their problems, Tatiana and Alice con Mike and Dave, pretending to be "respectable" girls, in order to get a free Hawaiian vacation. Will the girls successfully keep the brothers in check or will Tatiana and Alice make matters even worse for the Stangle family?
Developed by co-writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, the screenwriters of R-Rated hit Neighbors, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates provides another clever premise on which to build crude comedy hijinks. Freshman big screen director Jake Szymanski succeeds in delivering a lot laughs, and some genuinely unique comedy set pieces; though, he also struggles to find a solid balance between humor and human drama. It's clear that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is intended to be more than graphic gags but, in the end, it is the jokes, not the characters, that make the film remotely entertaining.
Where the Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates setup is sharp, the film is populated by a number of familiar comedy beats and character outlines. Most scenes are a variation of bits that have been done, in some form, before (and often better than) what appears in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. At the most basic level, the comedy lands - at least enough for the movie to dispense a steady stream of laughs. Szymanski isn't breaking new ground but he's working with a tried-and-true "Hard R-rated" formula - one that should please the filmmaker's target audience. Still, the director also peppers in heartfelt scenes that, compared to the comedy, is less adept - and doesn't communicate anything particularly insightful about love, marriage, codependence, or growing up.
Lead performances match the end result - several of the main characters devolve into hollow cartoons that, more than anything else, are just an opportunity for well-known actors to play against type (or, conversely, lean heavily into type). The juxtapositions generate laughs but often at the expense of making these characters worth more than the amount of jokes they can rack up. In particular, Szymanski uses Adam DeVine's Mike and Aubrey Plaza's Tatiana to drive the film's zanier moments (outrageous visual gags and plot beats, alike) without imbuing them with a comparative amount of humanity. It's understandable, since both performers are proven comedic talents, but as the story attempts to payoff human drama and not just movie shenanigans, DeVine and Plaza struggle to keep their characters relatable.
On the other hand, Efron and Kendrick are afforded more screen time to develop Dave and Alice - rather than hammer through over-the-top mischief. Both are grounded with real-life troubles and baggage that make them sympathetic, in spite of their shortcomings, and provide room to grow (even if the film doesn't bring all these threads together). Snippets of dialogue that explain Dave and Alice's respective problems are still fragments, not cohesive character work, but watching Efron and Kendrick play off their co-stars is, nonetheless, enjoyable. Efron continues to prove he's got the talent to transcend his "Disney Kid" persona - once again stealing the spotlight in his scenes with sharp comedic timing and, as a change of pace, playing the straight man to DeVine's eccentricities. Similarly, Kendrick gets significant mileage by contrasting her kind-hearted public persona and prior roles with hilarious scenes of the actress smoking weed, drunk table dancing, and tripping on ecstasy.
While some viewers will, understandably, scoff at Szymanski's on-the-nose approach in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, it's clear the filmmaker made a choice to develop his film around the assembled talent for individual moments, rather than an overarching story. Watching DeVine, Efron, Kendrick, and Plaza interact is what makes the film work (when it does) - even if the movie doesn't have room to make complete use of the performers or their characters. The stars are joined by a solid ensemble cast, including Sugar Lyn Beard (The Zone), Sam Richardson (Veep), and Alice Wetterlund (Silicon Valley), who (even though they are mainly responsible for pushing plot) are actually the drivers behind several of the movies best (and laugh-out-loud) comedy moments. In particular, Beard's Jeanie may be one of the most affecting characters in the movie - landing a balance between genuine heart and outrageous humor that often escapes the larger film.
Ultimately, Szymanski produced a harmless entry in the raunch comedy pantheon with a fun premise and plenty of laughs - albeit thinly strung together with half-baked attempts at exploring love, relationship, and self-improvement. The movie lacks the broad appeal of similar films that manage to dispense meaningful human drama amidst outrageous comedy scenarios - meaning that it'll have no problem pleasing moviegoers who just want to laugh but will have difficulty reaching outside of its raunch comedy bubble to satisfy a wide range of casual viewers. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates hits the basic mandates of R-rated comedy but falls flat in its effort to be as insightful as it is funny.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates runs 98 minutes and is Rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity. Now playing in theaters.
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